Activism

Meet the 15-year-old behind the campaign to save Bengaluru’s Bellandur lake

Vallabh Rao
31st Mar 2018
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Save Bellandur Lake is an online and offline campaign by 15-year-old Class-IX student Gautam Dayal. The campaign aims to create awareness as well as organise volunteer-driven events to improve the lake ecosystem.

Bellandur, Bengaluru’s largest lake, has been in the news lately for foaming and fires in the catchment area. While the authorities have failed to prevent the further deterioration of the lake, Gautam Dayal, a 15-year-old Class-IX student of International School, Bangalore (TISB), has started a campaign to save it. The campaigns consists of two parts - online, which is centred around the website www.savebellandurlake.org, designed as a place for information, pictures, blogs, problem-solution forums, and social media updates, and offline events, which include bird-watching, get-to-know-our-lake nature walks, photo walks, cleaning and tree planting efforts.

Gautam answers a few questions on the campaign and what motivated him to take on this initiative. 

YourStory: What motivated you to start the campaign? 

Gautam Dayal: I live next to Bellandur lake and every day I suffer from the fires, toxic foam, stench and mosquitoes. Our apartment complex is in the lake catchment area and instead of greenery, I see my environment being destroyed—the polluted lake, illegal waste processing units, massive garbage being dumped and burned, and illegal tankers drilling water. I have always felt helpless. I also see some awesome sunsets making me feel there is hope. I have enjoyed nature, especially bird-watching from a very young age. 

I signed up for the 1M1B Future Leader programme in school in August. It is a social entrepreneurship programme for school students spanning six months and teaches structured problem-solving and presentation methods. As part of this, I was to identify problem areas, select one area to focus on and then come up with a solution, validate it, and then execute and demonstrate impact. I came up with a few problems: the lake, traffic, civic issues…but helping to clean Bellandur lake was what resonated with me personally. I love coding, photography and bird-watching and Bellandur lake cause was important for me. Instead of feeling helpless, I wanted to contribute to help clean the lake. 

YS: What went into building the campaign?

GD: My problem statement was: how can we help the citizens of Bengaluru solve the problem of lakes like Bellandur getting polluted due to untreated sewage, industrial and construction waste? 

I read a lot and spoke to many citizen activists and learned that there were many wonderful dedicated groups, scientists involved in rejuvenating the lake. That was good news. There was a lot of information but it was scattered and also teens were not involved. I also learned from other lake revival success stories that community involvement was key for reviving Bellandur lake. 

So I thought of creating a web platform and community to unite citizens, teens, experts, and even government bodies around the lake and its issues. My idea is to encourage more involvement and excitement about the lake among citizens, and especially among teens. Ialso wish to feed information to other lake groups and media and influence legislations. This should also make the government more accountable. 

YS: Who are the people and organisations that supported you in this effort?

GD: Firstly, had it not been for 1M1B I might never have done this. They helped me start this and have inspired me and guided me a lot along the way. The problem-solving and presentation techniques I learned have helped me tremendously. 

Outside 1M1B, I spoke to many people, but Seema Aunty (Seema Sharma) helped me the most. She is a very passionate and knowledgeable lake and solid-waste activist. She spent so much of her precious time giving me feedback, information and connecting me with the right people. 

I created the website using Wix. I have done Python programming and thought this would be a piece of cake but I did find it a challenge creating a community website and was struggling for many days with many loose ends. Then, Sunil Bhatia (ex-Yahoo/Amazon engineer and entrepreneur) came to my rescue. He helped me put it together with amazing ease and speed. He is still my mentor and adviser on this project. 

To sustain this amount of work I have teamed up with four other friends, and a couple of moms of my friends to help me take this forward to the next level. With time, we hope to involve many more people. 

My family too has been very supportive—from helping me get in touch with the right people, to discussing things with me and letting me take time out from studies. My mother hides my mobile phone and laptop from me for a few hours so that I can do other stuff. They also let me struggle and come up with my own solutions. That is nice. 

YS: What have been the components of the campaign so far? 

GD: We have created a community website and seeded the initial content and community. We have conducted interviews with lake experts, including activists and Professor TV Ramachandra from the IISc, and invited lake conservation groups to blog on this site. The campaign has spread the word in one apartment complex and a school, and reached out to citizen lake groups. We organised the first get-to-know-your-lake walk with a small group of teens. I have created a small team of friends to join the cause and take savebellandurlake.org forward. Many other teens have shown interest. 

Gautam with Prof. T.V. Ramachandra

YS: How has the response been so far? 

GD: I launched the site a month ago and the response has been beyond anything I expected. We now have more than 500 people visiting the site every day, and people starting to retweet our posts, upload photos and report issues on the forums. We are announcing a photo competition this week and that should create a lot of excitement and participation.

I got great coverage in the media for the Save Bellandur Lake initiative. This also helped awareness of the site, and attracted interest from volunteers and organisations offering to collaborate and help. Many of my friends are now interested in joining this work. I am amazed by the willingness of experts who have been working on this cause for years, to talk to me and help me on my efforts. I am now feeling even more confident that this new community site can make a difference. 

YS: What are your future plans? 

GD: We want to organise more offline events like get-to-know-our-lake walks, bird-watching, and cleaning efforts, while growing traffic on savebellandurlake.org, and convincing other lake groups to adopt the site for community outreach. We want more young people to join the savebellandurlake.org volunteer team and help us spread the word in other apartments around Bellandur lake. We also have plans to post a monthly news digest with a progress report on lake cleanup efforts and rehaul the website to improve mobile experience and make community participation easier and fun. 

For more information on the initiative visit the website https://www.savebellandurlake.org.

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